When someone mentions a “Home Theater,” what do you think of? We often think of “movie-themed” rooms cut off from the rest of the house that we retreat to when we want a real escape. However, if you’re someone who wants the best picture and sound, but doesn’t particularly want to slip into a void of total isolation (no matter how cool it may be!), don’t despair. There is a solution for you.
Believe it or not, the trend is moving away from dedicated home theater spaces and more towards lifestyle areas that can provide both a great place to hang out and a highly immersive cinematic experience when you’re ready to watch a movie. Of course, it does require some careful planning and coordination with your interior designer, but in 2021 it’s entirely possible to have your cake and eat it too.
Make the best of a beautiful situation.
The reality is that most dedicated home theater spaces can’t be the “perfect room” anyway for one reason or another. In all but the most extreme cases, some spatial or budgetary constraints will get in the way of a textbook layout. Things are no different than with a lifestyle theater. What’s important is knowing the environment you’re working with and designing a solution that overcomes the decorative and acoustic challenges. If you commit to doing things right, high performance is very attainable.
You’ve probably seen pictures online of some unique multi-use spaces; one of our favorites is a combination bar/theater area by Tym Homes. It’s not drab or dark and offers plenty of spots for both conversation and serious stargazing.
Anatomy of a “Lifestyle” home theater
PSA : Due to the need to conceal wiring and hide speakers inside of your walls and ceilings, pulling off these kinds of spaces is much easier when you’re pre-wiring with new construction or when your remodeling a room. It can still be done when you’re not in the midst of a large-scale project, but you’ll probably at the very least end up with some drywall work.
Step 1. Analyze the Space
There are two gremlins to contend with when designing your home theater area. The first is ambient light, and the second is acoustics.
Ambient Light :
Ambient light is the light that is already in the room. You need to pay close attention to where this light is coming from, how much there is of it, and what type of light it is. Not only can it affect the picture quality of your home theater system, but it can also cause eye strain and even headaches. So, what can you do about ambient light? Our go-to solution is installing motorized black-out shades for dealing with sunlight flooding a room through windows and skylights. Shades let you keep your space bright and airy while still effectively controlling the light during viewing.
We also need to make sure we have control of the artificial light in the room. This can be addressed with a basic dimmer switch, but we usually like to take things a step further. For example, implementing lighting control that triggers a “movie scene” lets you create the kind of “magic transformation” most people are looking after.
Now onto the second gremlin;
Have you ever wondered why movie theater walls are draped in fabric or some other kind of soft cushy materials? We’ve come to associate that with the intrinsic charm of a vintage movie house and probably assume it’s an aesthetic that’s rooted in nostalgic tradition.
In reality, the choice of those materials is very intentional. Hard surfaces like drywall or wood flooring reflect sound, while soft surfaces absorb sound. When sound bounces from surface to surface, this is called a “reflection.” Reflections impact the clarity of the soundtrack, make bass thin and muddy, and generally rain on your parade. Lousy acoustics will make even the most incredible speakers sound anemic.
We tackle these issues with thick fabric walls and huge corner traps in a dedicated theater, but we have to get creative in a lifestyle home theater. Addressing the issue of acoustics is a great touchpoint to coordinate with your interior designer. Ask them to incorporate soft surfaces into your design. If your room has hardwood or stone floors, an area rug under furniture is a significant first step. Furniture soaks up lots of sound, and there is even one more sneaky trick.
If you plan to have any canvases hanging in your room, you can order artwork printed directly on a sound-absorbing panel. No one will be the wiser, but you’ll be effectively taming the reflections in your room.
Lastly, don’t forget to pay attention to the rooms around your lifestyle theater. If bedrooms are nearby, adding a backbox to your in-wall speakers will help keep sound from transferring to adjacent spaces through walls and floors.
Pro Tip: Your neck is calling. If this will be your primary display or TV, don’t put it over your fireplace. Most of the time, a TV mounted high over the fireplace spells severe neck pain, even during casual viewing. However, we do grant an exception for a TV that will double as artwork, like Samsung’s “The Frame.”
Step 2. Projectors & Screens
I think the true cornerstone of these multi-use spaces is employing a projector system and a retractable motorized screen. There are a couple of ways we can make that happen.
Recessed projector lifts
The biggest advantage of a recessed model is that it takes up the least amount of room possible. The projector is tucked away into the ceiling when not in use and gracefully descends into its working position when called. This really does provide the ultimate “transformer” moment and allows you to completely conceal your room’s dual personality.
Ultra Short Throw Projectors (UST)
Another option for an incognito projector installation is something called an Ultra Short Throw projector. A UST can be placed inches from a wall and even recessed into a custom furniture piece. Due to their close proximity to the screen material, a UST can produce a much brighter than a similarly rated traditional projector. Just keep in mind UST’s require a particular type of screen to make the most of the technology.
Step 3. Speakers for your home theater
You have two choices when it comes to selecting speakers for your lifestyle theater. You can opt for very low-profile speakers that blend away into your design, or you can incorporate options that become a part of your design. (We’ve covered that in greater depth in our post “Top 4 In-wall Speakers Your Designer Will Love!“) Whatever you choose, there are options available that are sure to complement your design.
It’s always best to install your front speakers either directly beside or behind your projector screen. If space or materials don’t allow for that type of setup, When a wall install is not an option, we’re big fans of Focal’s “Invisible Speaker System.”
These are in-ceiling speakers that fire at an angle to very effectively create the illusion of sound coming from the screen rather than above. They also incorporate backboxes as standard and have a sexy trim-less bezel. Yes, please!
Step 4. Home Theater Seating & Furniture
I think most of us aren’t looking for colossal movie theater recliners in the middle of our living room. That would kind of defeat the whole purpose of a convertible space. Fortunately, several seating companies have stepped up to the plate and now offer home theater seating that’s virtually indistinguishable to even the most discerning taste. Look for “Media Room Furniture”.
Step 5. Bringing it all together.
Elan makes everything easy.
If you’ve made it this far, the pieces are all in place, and now it’s time to tie everything together. Here is where an Elan home automation system can take things to the next level. At this point, if you’ve followed our recipe, you have a Projector, Motorized Projection Screen, Receiver, Motorized Shades, and then, of course, the lights and climate in your room to control. My math tells me that it would require no less than six remote controls.
When a customer requests this type of setup, we create a “Movie Mode” button that simplifies this entire ballet into a single button press. From their Elan remote control, touchscreen, or smartphone, the projector lowers into position and powers on, the screen drops down, the room’s lights dim, the sound turns on, and you’re dropped straight to your favorite channel or streaming service. That same Elan remote can control your Apple TV and even adjust the temperature in the room. This is a killer app for home automation—no switching inputs, no modes, and no digging remotes out of the couch.
When movie time is over, press that same “movie time” button, and everything disappears. Finally, the lights fade up, and you’re ready to make memories with your friends.
Editors Note: If you're entirely new to home theaters and AV or are trying to gain a basic knowledge of technology in new construction as a homeowner, I would suggest you start your journey with our New Home Technology Guide. It's more of a bird's eye view of what's possible and serves as a great primer on the topic.
Now that you’ve been warned brace yourself for a deep dive into the how. If you’re planning to DIY the wiring of your project, or you want to be very well versed when communicating with your installer you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started unpacking the process of designing and wiring your smart home from end to end!
The importance of Design:
During the planning stages, anything is possible. As long as you take it into account during this phase, you can integrate a vast number of systems. Of course, it can vary from project to project, but we usually start with the following outline:
Take an inventory of what will and will not apply to your home. For example, if you don’t have a pool or sprinkler system, “Water & Aquatics” can be struck from the list. Next, let’s hash things out a little further. Split each category into detailed subcategories. Here’s an example of the expanded list.
You’ll need to create a symbol or marking to delineate each type of device.
Placing your AV Rack and Low-Voltage Panel
You need to consider two critical pieces of equipment when beginning to lay out your wiring plan. The first location is for your equipment rack; the second is for the low-voltage panel or “Smart Panel.”
The rack will hold all of the home’s central nervous system, including patch bays, network switches, audio amplifiers, video distribution equipment, network routers, and your automation system controller. If you decide to centralize your entire home altogether, you might also have cable boxes, satellite receivers, and even more.
The low voltage panel is installed directly into the wall. We find it most useful for housing the coaxial system and all camera-related wiring. Separating the surveillance elements from the rest of the rack enables you to lock the panel up securely. Hence, things keep functioning even if someone attempts tampering with the equipment rack.
When deciding where to place your rack, first and foremost find a location with enough room to accommodate the equipment and plenty of room to work. As much as it might seem like a waste of space, your equipment needs to be located in a conditioned area. Heat is the number one enemy of electronics, so choose a location that’s well ventilated.
You’re also going to have to avoid any major structural members since drilling through them could compromise the integrity of your building. Start your search on an interior wall or under a staircase.
HOW TO MAKE A SMART PLAN FOR TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR NEW HOME.
You’re finally building your dream home. You’ve hired an architect, and you’re shopping around for the perfect builder. You may not know it yet, but this is the ideal time to involve a home technology integrator.
What exactly is an integrator? An integrator is the designer and installer of your home’s technology backbone. Their primary mission is creating audio and video experiences like music throughout the house, TV installations, and home theater. An integrator brings together all of the separate systems in your home like lighting, HVAC, and security and makes them more manageable by providing one cohesive control system.
While smaller spaces can be easily managed with off-the-shelf solutions like Apple HomeKit or SmartThings, it’s usually a huge benefit to call in an expert as the home’s size grows.
It’s important to talk through your options early on because, while you can retrofit some things after the house has been completed, it’s dramatically less expensive to pre-wire your home during construction.
IF THERE’S EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE YOU MIGHT WANT SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE, RUN THE WIRE DURING CONSTRUCTION!
LASTLY, WHILE IT MAY BE TEMPTING, DON’T RELY ENTIRELY ON WIRELESS.
Wi-Fi has come a long way, but if you have the opportunity to pre-wire for any device like a computer or TV, you should do so. This forward-thinking frees up your wireless network to provide the best service for devices that move around throughout the home (phones, tablets, etc.) and gives you a little bit of a backup plan if you need to add something later on that can’t be hardwired.
WHOLE HOME AUDIO
One of the biggest trends in building today is the use of a whole-home audio system. If you’ve ever wanted to have music playing throughout your home (without deafening anyone who dares to walk in the living room), then this is the solution for you.
Some of the more popular brands you’ll probably run into are Sonos & BlueSound, but you may occasionally see others. Speakers are installed in ceilings and walls, but soundbars and freestanding speakers can also be integrated. You can stream music from the provider of your choice or even listen to vinyl from your turntable.
Once these speakers are in place, it doesn’t just stop at music. With a bit of further design, you can use these speakers to carry sound from your TV, broadcast the doorbell, or even function as an intercom.
THINK IT THROUGH:
Not every space needs the same quality of sound. Work with your designer and figure out the places where quality counts. Come up with a Good, Better, Best strategy.
This method lets you focus your investment on areas where you’ll be congregating, like a kitchen or living room, but allows you to use more economical options in transient spaces like hallways or bathrooms
TYPES OF SPEAKERS:
Let’s take a moment to make sure you have a clear understanding of the different types of speakers that are available. For purposes of discussing your new home, we can break those down into three main categories.
IN-CEILING & IN-WALL
In-Ceiling or In-Wall speakers are exactly as their names describe, but you’ll sometimes see them called “Architectural Speakers.” They’re speakers that are tucked away into your wall or ceiling and can provide rich sound without eating up floor space or providing an easy target for a Sharpie-wielding toddler or teething chihuahua. When people think of speakers in a smart home today, these are what come to mind.
In-Ceiling is a perfect solution when you’re looking for “heard and not seen.”
One caveat to be aware of: depending on the particular speakers you’ve selected, they can sometimes be lacking in bass response, but the addition of a subwoofer can quickly remedy this.
TIPS & TRICKS:
Specify in-ceiling speakers with a “rough-in” bracket that acts as a template for your drywall crew. This bracket allows you to line up speakers with other elements on the ceiling, like recessed lights or other points of interest. These brackets are cut out as your drywall is installed, leaving a perfect hole and no mess in your home later on.
Are you concerned about sound from speakers in one room bleeding into the room behind it or the floor above? Install a back box. A back box is an enclosure that installs behind your speaker and blocks the sound from traveling into adjacent rooms; it also provides a slight boost in audio quality.
Everyone knows the built-in sound from your TV leaves much to be desired. You can only expect so much from a pair of tiny speakers shooting backward into your wall. That’s where Soundbars come in. They provide a simple upgrade from your TV’s internal speakers without much of the fuss of larger speakers.
Due to their compact size, they can’t match the performance of in-wall or freestanding speakers, but they’re a great starting point and perfect for spaces like bedrooms or an office.
FREE STANDING / FURNITURE PIECES:
While they’re no longer as common as their in-wall brethren, sometimes freestanding speakers are a perfect choice. Since the enclosure the speakers live in can be engineered for performance, freestanding speakers are the pinnacle of audio quality. They don’t have to be ugly either; speakers from brands like Focal or KEF are available in a wide range of finishes and can genuinely give your interior designer something unique to work with.
I like to think of some of these high design pieces like furniture and not just a source of sound. There’s no better way to say “listening room” than a bold pair of speakers commanding your attention. The downside to freestanding speakers is they do eat up floor space, but sometimes quality is worth the compromise.
SUBWOOFERS: ‘CAUSE YOU’RE ALL ABOUT THAT BASS:
One final speaker serves as a faithful companion to all three types we’ve listed above. Subwoofers reproduce low frequencies and bass in a way that most normal speakers aren’t able to. Subs are the secret sauce that makes you FEEL the music. It takes a substantial speaker to create that energy, so most subwoofers clock in between ten and sixteen inches in diameter.
A subwoofer is an absolute must for a home theater, but you should also consider using them in entertaining spaces or living rooms.
So what exactly is a home theater? A home theater can be any space that offers a few key ingredients. The size and appearance can vary, but they always employ some kind of multi-speaker surround sound system and a high-quality display. The main idea is to bring some of the magic and allure of a commercial movie theater right into the comfort of your own home.
WHAT TYPE OF DISPLAY IS BEST FOR YOU?
There are two primary display technologies available today; Flat-panel TVs (LCD & OLED) and Projection systems.
The first thing to decide is what size screen is appropriate for your space. When a screen is too small, you won’t be drawn into the action or might find yourself squinting. Conversely, if a screen is too large, it will overwhelm the space and cause you to tilt your neck to take in the entire scene.
A RULE OF THUMB:
WE RECOMMEND THE FOLLOWING SCREEN SIZES BASED ON THE ROOM TYPE:
Home Offices, Living Rooms, Great Rooms : 55″-77″
Media Rooms & Custom Theaters: 82″ – INFINITY! (Seriously!)
If you want to make sure you get things right, use a screen-size calculator from THX or SMPTE. Input the distance between your seating position and the screen. The calculator will suggest the perfect screen size for your room.
When you sit straight in front of a screen, this is called on-axis viewing. Most displays perform their best when viewed on-axis, but as you move to the left or right of center (off-axis), some types of TVs are prone to washing out and losing contrast. If a wide viewing angle is required, consider a TV based on OLED technology. It might cost a little bit more, but in the end, you (and all your guests) will be much happier with the experience.
A wide viewing angle can be one of the primary differences between a cheap TV from a big box store and the available higher-end models. Sure, it’s great to save a couple of bucks if you can, but that doesn’t matter if it isn’t usable in your space.
WILL IT PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS?
An essential but often overlooked piece of the puzzle when selecting a display has nothing to do with picture quality, screen size, or aesthetics. To integrate with most home control systems, a TV has to support network control.
If you select any mid-range or higher models from Sony or Samsung, you should be safe, but picking a TCL or Vizio could leave you banging your head against the wall.
FLAT PANEL OR PROJECTOR?
Once you’ve settled on the appropriate screen size, let’s look at which technology might be the best fit. Believe it or not, it’s a pretty easy decision!
If you need a screen larger than 85 inches, you’re going to need a projector. For any application smaller than 85 inches, keep things simple and stick to a flat panel.
PROJECTORS : THE REALLY BIG SCREEN
Projection setups have one huge advantage compared to flat-panel TVs, and that is the ability to accommodate enormous screen sizes. Nothing else can even come close to their ability to put you right in the middle of the action. When you’re looking for the wow factor, a projector delivers!
But, there are a few factors that come with the territory…
The most significant enemy to any projection setup is ambient light. When stray light from the outdoors hits your screen, it causes it to lose contrast and punch but fortunately, there are a few creative solutions that can help mitigate the problem.
The first line of defense is to address the source of the light itself. You can pair a home control system with motorized shades and automated lighting control. With a single press of a button, you can turn on the projector, dim the lights in your room, lower the shades and start your movie.
Companies likeScreen Innovations have worked miracles to solve these kinds of problems with new screen materials like “Slate” or “Black Diamond .” These screens brilliantly display the image coming from your projector while rejecting most of the ambient light in the room.
But wait, that’s not all!
Have you ever wondered where all the bulky speakers are hiding in a movie theater? If you’ve taken in a showing at the IMAX, you’ve probably seen the demo where they illuminate the screen from behind to reveal the colossal stacks of speakers hiding behind the screen.
When you use what’s called an “Acoustically Transparent” or AT screen, you can benefit from the same thing at home. An AT screen has thousands of tiny perforations that allow sound to pass through unencumbered while visually hiding anything concealed behind it.
This is a perfect option for people who want big-league sound without seeing where it is coming from.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO DREAM BIG
Almost anything is possible with projection.
You can hide motorized screens in ceilings or drop one down in front of a smaller TV for casual use!
A CLOSER LOOK: SURROUND SOUND FOR HOME THEATER
If you want to get more information on the basics of Surround Sound check out our blog post “Surround Sound Basics” here!
MOTORIZED SHADES & CURTAINS
If you ever wished that one day you could press a button and completely transform the feeling of a room, the future is here, and such technology is no longer just reserved for the likes of Tony Stark, James Bond, or Richard Branson.
Motorized shades serve multiple purposes like controlling the amount of light inside the room, helping control solar heat gain, and offering privacy on demand.
There are three primary categories of shade materials. “solar screen” fabrics allow a specific amount of light to pass through while offering a screened look. You’ll usually see them written as with a percentage value, representing the amount of light that is allowed to pass through the material.
“Blackout” fabrics, while entirely opaque, offer the most significant amount of privacy and temperature control.
TIPS & TRICKS FOR MOTORIZED SHADES:
When selecting a light filtering fabric, choose darker colors for enhanced viewability and lighter colors to help maximize heat reduction.
AS ALWAYS, IT PAYS TO PREWIRE.
In a remodel situation, installations are usually limited to using lithium batteries that require an annual recharge. When planning for new construction, be sure to specify a prewire to make your shades virtually maintenance-free.
Lighting Control & Automation
Lighting control is also one of those most natural and valuable ways to automate your home. Each bank of lights can be assigned to scenes or schedules., and you can even make walking around the house on the way out the door a thing of the past.
You have three options to consider when it comes to controlling the lighting.
#1 – Smart Dimmers or Switches
The traditional way is to install “smart” dimmers throughout the home. Each light or “Load” is wired directly to a dimmer switch in each room. This can save on wire costs for your electrician, but in larger homes that have multiple switches for each space, it can certainly get ugly. The advantage of this method is cost. Depending on which platform you use, like Lutron RA or Z-Wave, you could only be looking at a premium of $50-$100 per dimmer location.
#2 – Wi-Fi Bulbs
The second option is the use of wi-fi bulbs. With an app on your phone or tablet, the lights can be programmed with different flash patterns and color schemes if you’re feeling adventurous.
There are a few negatives to opting for individual smart bulbs, one being their significant price premium. Also, if you choose bulbs using wi-fi technology, they’re notorious for slowing down wi-fi traffic and crowding your network.
#3 – Panelized Lighting
The last type of lighting control is the most intensive but also has a few very distinct benefits.
Panelized lighting is the gold standard in custom lighting control.
In a typical home, light switches are installed directly in each room, and the individual fixtures or loads connect directly to them. This traditional approach is simple and does offer savings on wiring costs.
When you make use of panelized lighting, all switches and dimmers are located in a central panel (usually in your home’s mechanical room) and then remotely controlled.
This configuration does require a little more wire and planning, but the payoff is enormous. For example, you can have six loads controlled in the space, typically used for only one, or eliminate mechanical switches and centralize control on a touch panel.
We’ve talked about some of the things you can do with technology in your new home, but what’s the best way to bring everything together and make it a functional and useful part of your everyday life? The use of a home control system makes integrating all of the various technology in your house user-friendly and effortless.
You’ve probably heard of some of the DIY brands in the space like SmartThings, or Apple Home Kit. On the professional side, some of the bigger players are Control 4, Savant, Crestron, and Elan. When you’re working with a smaller home or just a few devices, sometimes the big box brands are completely adequate.
If you’re controlling every aspect of your home, or just have a lot of technology you’re much better off with a professionally installed solution.
At Audilux, we’ve standardized all of our installations around Elan. We think it’s the very best option on the market for custom homes and provides a great balance of elegance and value.
One of the biggest differences between a custom system and DIY alternatives is that all of the processing is done right inside your home rather than sent off to the internet. This is called “Local Control” and it offers a huge advantage in both security and performance. Imagine asking a question from across the room rather than being forced to walk ten miles just to get an answer, I think we’d all choose the simpler option.
This also means that in the event your internet connection is down everything continues to function normally. This is not true of store-bought solutions.
There is a lot more than just good technology going into the images of theaters you see on Pinterest or in Magazines. It takes a lot of work from talented interior designers coordinating with your general contractor and your technology professional to achieve those kinds of results.
If you have something in mind, bring it up early so everyone who needs to be involved can do their part to make your dream come to fruition!
ARE YOU IN THE NASHVILLE AREA AND LOOKING FOR A PROFESSIONAL TO PARTNER WITH ON YOUR NEW HOME?
I’m sure you probably remember the first time you experienced surround sound at the movie theater. In my case, I walked into a local screening of Jurassic Park, unaware of my local cinemas’ latest upgrade. I watched in awe as the t-rex skulked onto the screen, brontosaurus thundered, and velociraptors screeched and whirred around me.
I left with a massive smile on my face and immediately started trying to replicate the audio experience at home.
Early on, most people were stuck using kits from Bose, JBL, or a few other companies, but we’ve come a long way since then! Now it’s not only possible to match the experience of your local movie house; in many cases, you can even do better! (All while skipping the crazy popcorn prices in the process!)
If you’re starting to consider a custom home theater or surround sound system for your home, here are a few fundamentals to help you with your research:
What exactly is surround sound?
The goal of a surround sound system is to take the action unfolding on your screen and place you sonically right in the middle of it. So, for example, when a plane flies overhead in a film, the sound would come diving from over your head.
Surround sound systems consist of an audio receiver and two functional types of speakers: satellite (full-range) and Subwoofers. The full-range speakers reproduce the majority of the audio signal and are carefully positioned all around the room to help simulate a sound’s location.
The Subwoofers are tasked with one hundred percent of the bass and low-frequency information and providing the roar when explosions take the stage.
Do your best to be “matchy-matchy”:
All of your satellite speakers should be identical in an ideal world, but that’s not always practical.
At the very least, make sure to use speakers from the same manufacturer and product line to ensure they have similar timbre and voicing; this will prevent a noticeable change in tone as elements move from one speaker to the next.
Surround formats are specified using a number system.
The way system configurations are written can often be confusing. Here’s the secret formula:
The first number listed is the number of satellite speakers; the second number after the decimal is the number of subwoofers. So a “5.1 System” would have five satellite speakers and one subwoofer, and a “7.1 System” would consist of seven satellite speakers and one subwoofer.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the addition of a third number. The final number represents the number of heightspeakers for Dolby Atmos. If you’re lucky enough to build a “9.2.4 System”, not only will you have a mind-blowing theater, but it would include nine satellites, two subwoofers, and four height speakers (oh my!)
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmosis the latest and greatest surround sound tech from Dolby Engineering. It incorporates height speakers (usually installed in the ceiling) to make sound come from above and additionally employs object-based audio processing.
Without getting too nerdy, Atmos takes a movie’s soundtrack and customizes it precisely to the number of speakers you have available. You let the receiver or processor know what it has to work with; the rest is Dolby magic!
Are you looking for a custom home theater in Franklin, Nashville, or Middle TN?
Please don’t hesitate to reach out! We’d love to put our expertise to work for you!